Gareth Ratcliffe - Town and County Councillor for Hay - talked about what Powys County Council are doing, beginning with the words: "Powys County Council have played many a trick, and moved goal-posts." He added that it's very difficult to get any accurate information out of the PCC. He said that the ten other branch libraries in danger of closing have been "picked off one by one", but Hay has not done a deal yet. He added that many local groups could use the "Community" space in the new school building if the library is not put in there. Leaving the library in its present building can enhance the local community.
HOWLS have had a stall in the market to publicise what's going on, and to answer FAQs, one of which is "Why can't volunteers run the library?" They had a printed sheet to answer this - the short answer is that volunteers cannot replace a professional service in the long term. I'll post the full answer shortly.
Jane, Hay's librarian, was present at the meeting, and said that she was not able to comment officially. However she did point out that running the library was a team effort, and praised the other members of her team. She did say that she appreciated the support of the community.
Kirsty Williams, AM, and Education Minister for the Welsh Assembly, was present, and gave a passionate speech about the importance of libraries. Her mother was a librarian, and she said that her parents had actually met in the basement of Swansea Library! There's a transcript of part of her speech on the HOWLS Facebook page.
She said that the problem with the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act is that is says that there is a statutory requirement to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, but does not describe what this entails, leaving it open to interpretation. If the Welsh Assembly decide that PCC is not fulfilling their duty, they are empowered to hold an enquiry, but this has only ever happened once, in the Wirral. ("So let's go for it!" someone shouted from the floor). Basically, though, if the PCC say 6 hours a week is sufficient, there isn't a lot anyone can do about it.
Across Wales, three county councils now run their library services through a Trust, and one runs their libraries through a charity, so they have already divested themselves of the responsibility. Services are already being run by relying on volunteers, even though librarians have a professional qualification.
In the report for 2015/16 in Powys, the PCC did not meet the criteria for library staff per capita, and opening libraries for shorter hours will mean they fail the criteria for this year as well.
Even if the Town Council could, legally, fund the Library, it would not necessarily save the service. Crickhowell now have a joint venture between the Library and the High School, but there is only a five year agreement, and the hours have been reduced - and the PCC could still cut the service.
Rev Ian Charlesworth was also present - he has experience of locking horns with the PCC as the chair of governors of Gwernyfed School. He pointed out that the Library is not just a service for the people of Hay - residents of the wider area also use it, from Llanigon, and Clyro and even further afield. So why should Hay take on the entire burden of funding for the whole area? Not to mention that we already pay for the library service through our existing taxes.
As the library is a statutory service, the PCC have to consult before they change things. In 2014 they reduced the library hours by 20%, and there seems to be no documentation for the consultation they held in 2016. As Anita from HOWLS said - she didn't hear of any consultation at the time, and only 13 people turned up at the drop-in session, which was very poorly advertised, and only 29 gave their views. There were some meetings organised by the Chief Librarian and some press releases to the Brecon and Radnor Express, but that is not enough for a proper consultation process.
Out of 62,151 residents in Powys, only 598 residents responded to the library consultation - and most of those didn't want to lose their libraries.
One path of opposition is to call for a judicial review. At Gwernyfed, they were lucky enough to have a parent who was willing to do this, but it costs money, and legal aid can only be obtained if the person seeking judicial review is on benefits, which is a lot to ask of anyone.
The benefit of a judicial review is that it sends the PCC back to the drawing board to start again with their plans for all the libraries. After all, why should the small, branch libraries bear the brunt of the cuts, rather than the bigger libraries in Brecon or the other big towns in Powys?